Missouri and Ozarks History

Information and comments about historical people and events of Missouri, the Ozarks region, and surrounding area.

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I'm a freelance writer specializing in the history of the Ozarks and surrounding region. I've written sixteen nonfiction books, two historical novels, and numerous articles. My latest books are Wicked Women of Missouri, Yanked Into Eternity: Lynchings and Hangings in Missouri, and Show-Me Atrocities: Infamous Incidents in Missouri History.

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Religious Criminals

While surfing the Internet not long ago, I ran across a New York Times article, dated April 3, 1887, that contained an interesting comment on the murder a year and a half earlier in Greene County, Missouri, of Sarah Graham by her husband, George, and the sensational trial that followed of temperance revivalist Emma Molloy as an accessory to the crime. After giving the circumstances of the crime and the trial, the writer said, "It is a curious fact that in no part of the country are religious professions and simulated religious fervor more effectively used as a cloak for atrocious criminal tendencies and acts than in Southern Missouri. One of the leaders of the infamous bands of thugs called the Bald Knobbers is a Baptist preacher, and several of his fellow assassins are members of his church. It was in Southern Missouri that Sarah Graham was murdered in September, 1885, and on Mrs. Molloy's farm."
Ozarks folklorist Vance Randolph made a similar observation in his book (written under the pseudonym of Harvey Castleman) about the Bald Knobbers when he said, "Nearly all these murderers and outlaws, for some reason, were very religious men."
I might add Kate Bender of the Bloody Bender family to the list of religious killers from this general region. Although she wasn't, as far as I know, particularly religious in the conventional sense, she did claim to be a spiritualist and seeress.
I'm not sure whether there is anything to the Times reporter's observation that the southern Missouri region seems to breed more than its share of criminals who try to hide their heinous tendencies behind a veneer of religious fervor, but it is food for thought. It seems religion has been twisted to serve violent purposes ever since there was such a thing as religion, but I'm not sure people in the Ozarks and surrounding area are any more prone to such a tendency than people from other places.
More about the Emma Molloy case next time.

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